Pay Homage To The Best Race Horses
Last updated & tested: 2019-10-05
Dawn Run is the only horse irrespective of gender to win both the Champion Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup. In 1984, she also added the Irish and French Champion Hurdles to her CV for a treble that has never been done before or since. Other notable races landed by Dawn Run include the Ascot and Aintree Hurdles and the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown.
Such is the considerable legacy of this magnificent mare that she has both a novices’ hurdle at Cheltenham and a novice chase at Limerick named after in light of Dawn Run’s demonstrable achievements in both races. Many others on our list of racing greats have a race named for them, but to have two is rare indeed.
Frankel won nine consecutive Group 1 races – an unsurpassed feat of training anywhere in the world. Among his other accolades are being voted European Horse of the Year in consecutive seasons, as well as champion juvenile and three-year-old colt as well as the leading older horse. Since retiring from the track in 2012, Frankel has become a prolific sire – though the stud rights will set any breeder back considerably.
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Arkle may have been a multiple Cheltenham Gold Cup winner like fellow three-time victors Best Mate and Cottage Rake, but Golden Miller’s dominance of steeplechasing’s blue riband event in the mid-1930s will probably never be equal. He won five consecutive renewals of the race between 1932 and 1936.
On three of those occasions, Golden Miller was chased home by the 1933 Grand National hero Kellsboro Jack, who also landed the Scottish equivalent in 1935 after running at Prestbury Park. Trained by Basil Briscoe, Golden Miller’s status as a Cheltenham great is not in doubt and he must go down as a National Hunt legend as a result too having also won the big one at Aintree in 1934. That puts him as the only horse to win both the National and Gold Cup in the same season.
His rivalries with fellow Paul Nicholls trained chaser Denman are the stuff of legend, but Kauto Star is the only horse to win and then regain the Cheltenham Gold Cup. It’s not that reason alone that he makes it onto this list, however, but because he won five King George VI Chase races at Kempton including four in a row between 2006 and 2009.
As the top-rated steeplechaser by the BHA in four different seasons, Kauto Star was not only feared by the bookies and his rivals but beloved by racing fans. His popularity in modern times has perhaps only been rivalled by Cue Card, whose career briefly overlapped.
The Racing Post have never awarded a higher rating to a horse than Kauto Star since they started doing their own rankings. Besides his dual Cheltenham Gold Cup and five King George successes, he also won the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown twice and four Betfair Chase renewals at Haydock. As Kauto Star landed all three of the top class staying chases in Britain in 2007, he is only winner of this Triple Crown – not to be confused with the ones in hurdling or on the Flat.
The 1970s was a golden age for hurdling and horse racing was blessed by others who could easily be on this list of all-time greats like Bula, Comedy Of Errors, Monksfield and Sea Pigeon. It’s the latter’s Peter Easterby stablemate Night Nurse, however, who is the highest rated over hurdles ever according to Timeform.
In 1975-76, Night Nurse not only finished the season unbeaten but captured the Welsh, Scottish and English Champion Hurdle, as well as the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle. He would retain his Cheltenham Festival crown the following year and was then famously involved in a dead-heat in the Aintree Hurdle with Monksfield.
Night Nurse’s chasing career was modest by comparison, but he was fancied to return to Cheltenham and win the Gold Cup. The closest he got to emulating his hurdles success over fences was second in the 1981 renewal, but that cannot detract from the fact he is widely considered by industry experts as one of the best hurdlers ever.
Canadian bred, Irish trained Nijinsky was the last colt to complete the English Triple Crown and win all three Classic races on the Flat in Britain. Trained by Vincent O’Brien, this all too rare feat since the Second World War happened in 1970.
Many have gone close to following in Nijinsky’s hoofprints of victories in the 2000 Guineas, Epsom Derby and St Leger, but no male horse has been a Triple Crown winner since. The three-year-old season for any Flat thoroughbred is tough, but to win over the Rowley Mile at Newmarket, then step up to 1m 4f around the undulations of Epsom Downs for The Derby and do so again for well over one-and-three-quarter miles in the Leger at Doncaster is the ultimate test.
The Triple Crown is rarely attempted these days, so that puts into context the magnitude of what Nijinsky achieved. It’ll soon pass half a century since any colt has done it, which suggests racing may have got even more competitive in the last 50 years.
Oh So Sharp
Not to be outdone by the boys, Oh So Sharp won the Fillies’ Triple Crown in 1985 of the 1000 Guineas, Epsom Oaks and St Leger. Trained by one of the modern era’s master handlers Sir Henry Cecil, she had earlier won the Nell Gwyn Stakes at Newmarket – a key Guineas trial.
As a two-year-old, Oh So Sharp already got the trip for the first Classic when winning the Fillies’ Mile over course and distance. That, coupled with her subsequent course success in the Nell Gwyn, was perhaps the biggest evidence that she was a good thing.
The scope of her improvement to stay and hang on to complete the Triple Crown against the boys in the Leger earned her Oh So Sharp highest Timeform rating for a filly of her generation. No horse, whatever its gender, has won three Classics since.
No list of the best race horses would be complete without mentioning three-time Grand National winner Red Rum. Trained just a few miles up the road from the scene of his greatest triumphs – Aintree racecourse – by Ginger McCain on the beaches of Southport, he was one of the toughest and most enduring stayers in the sport’s history.
Getting the trip of the extended four-and-a-quarter miles of the Grand National is not guaranteed even in classy thoroughbreds. Red Rum not only won back-to-back runnings in 1973 and 1974 (and is the last horse to finish first more than once in it), but he went on land the Scottish Grand National just a few weeks after landing the spoils at Aintree.
As the only horse to win both English and Scottish Nationals in the same season, Red Rum would then finish second on Merseyside in the 1975 and 1976 renewals before regaining his title in 1977 at the age of 12. That phenomenal Grand National record in a race known the world over and watched by hundreds of millions across the globe is why he is among the pantheon of legendary horses.
Going way back to 1902, there was a history making filly who is the only horse to win four Classics. Sceptre ran in both the 1000 Guineas against her own sex and then the 2000 Guineas when taking on the colts before following up at Epsom in The Oaks and beating the boys again in the St Leger.
Prior to this monumental achievement, the filly Formosa had dead-heated in the 2000 Guineas of 1868 and won the other three Classics she ran in, so it leaves Sceptre as the outright most successful horse in British Classic history. She also stayed in training as a four-year-old and tasted some notable successes.
Those included the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot, Duke Of York Stakes and the Champion Stakes which was in those days contested at Newmarket. Sceptre spent another season racing, running with credit to place in the Ascot Gold Cup over a trip she had never tackled before.
Aidan O’Brien trained one of the greatest stayers of all time in Yeats. As the only horse to win the 2m 4f Gold Cup at Royal Ascot four times and in succession from 2006 to 2009, he was also European Champion Stayer for those season.
When a horse dominates a division for years, it demonstrates they are the best of that era. Yeats, who rightly has a statue in the Ascot paddock, also landed two Goodwood Cups, the Coronation Cup at Epsom, the Irish St Leger and Prix Royal-Oak at Longchamp, as well as the Vintage Crop Stakes twice.
Since his retirement in 2009, Yeats has become a key sire – particularly for National Hunt horses because of his staying credentials. His influence in this sphere will surely be felt for years to come and ties in nicely with the next issue surrounding the best race horses.
Like Dreaper stablemate Arkle, Flyingbolt was for a time practically untouchable in his division – 2m hurdles and chases – and was also very handy when stepped up. He won the 1966 renewal of the Queen Mother Champion Chase, then turned out again 24 hours later for a crack at the Champion Hurdle where he was only beaten three lengths. Such audacity.
Dreaper had already trained Arkle to win the Irish Grand National under 12st, but Flyingbolt had the welter burden of a further 7lb to carry when he landed the spoils after his Cheltenham Festival double assignment. He had previously won the Cotswold Chase – not the 3m Cheltenham Gold Cup trial we know today, but the former name of the Arkle Challenge Trophy over 2m – and the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at this National Hunt gala.
Injuries and illness blighted Flyingbolt after the end of the 1965-66 season, but nothing can take that memorable campaign away from him. That term also saw him land the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park over an extended 3m. Such versatility has rightly earned Flyingbolt a place among the all-time great National Hunt horses.
The best horse breeds for racing depend on bloodstock involved
Away from the track and behind the scenes of racing is the world of breeding. As almost all male horses that contest National Hunt races over jumps at gelded, meaning they cannot sire children, it is the Flat form of colts before being put to stud that influences bloodstock. With an ever-increasing mares and fillies programme across both codes, their racing careers are also important when looking at breeding and the progeny they produce.
Put simply the best horse breeds for racing depend entirely on what you as an owner are looking to achieve. If you want to buy a sprinter, then sires and dams with a proven track record in 5f and 6f races of or producing children that have won such contests is a must. Should you want a staying horse to go into training and win big prizes on the Flat like the Ascot Gold Cup or long-distance chases in National Hunt, then you need a sire and dam with endurance in their pedigree.
Some of the best racehorses in the UK and Ireland are not necessarily bred in the British Isles. There may be French, German, American, Canadian, Australian or some even more exotic heritage to the sire or dam. Our list of all-time greats above has focused on UK and Irish horses, but there are great races on the Flat to be won in the USA, Down Under and elsewhere as we also noted earlier.
Bringing in performers from those events around the globe adds an extra element to the world of bloodstock. Breeding is a truly international process now, as they seek to create the best racehorse in the world. Never forget the best horse for racing will have winners in the pedigree or at the very least will be closely related to some in the shape of half or full siblings.